According to Reports: Israel’s Critics Persist, Despite Goldstone Reversal

In his weekly Canadian Jewish News media analysis column "According to Reports," Paul Michaels, CIC Director of Communications, finds some are still hardened against Israel's actions during the Gaza war.

In an article written for the Jewish Daily Forward (April 4) about Judge Richard Goldstone's recanting the central and most damaging charge in the Goldstone report about the Gaza war – that Israel intentionally targeted civilians – Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz made the following observation: "Goldstone’s reassessment…pulls the rug out from under those who are currently using the Goldstone report as a centrepiece of their efforts to accuse Israel of war crimes, to delegitimize the Jewish state in the court of public opinion, to impose boycotts and to suggest a moral equivalence between the democratic nation of Israel and the terrorist-group-cum-'government' of Hamas."

Unfortunately, Goldstone's retraction has not pulled the rug out from under those determined to see Israel branded as guilty of "war crimes" in Gaza. Foremost among this crowd is Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, one of the major NGOs whose "findings" the authors of the Goldstone report relied upon.

In an April 4 Jerusalem Post opinion piece, Roth argued that his organization never alleged that the Israel Defence Forces had a policy of deliberately targeting civilians. Rather, he said that only the accretion of individual acts of Israeli soldiers and commanders involving civilian deaths, injuries and extensive property damage in Gaza leads to the conclusion that "the allegations of serious laws-of-war violations remain and have yet to see the credible domestic investigations that they require."

Roth was thus dismissive of something Goldstone in his Washington Post piece commended Israel for doing – investigating allegations that individual soldiers may have made mistakes or even been negligent. "In fact," Roth argues, "Israel’s investigations look good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing to investigate its war crimes."

Having initially said that Israel didn't have a policy of targeting Palestinian civilians, he then went on, in effect, to reiterate this charge: "Most important, Israel has failed to investigate adequately the policy-level decisions that apparently resulted in wide-scale attacks in Gaza. Those decisions are obviously the most sensitive because they involve senior officials."

Some would say that the distinction between a "policy" and a "policy-level decision" is one without difference, especially given Roth's tenacious insistence that the IDF still stands accused of war crimes. Senior Israeli officials may yet face prosecution at the International Criminal Court if Roth and his cohorts have their way.

Does Roth apply the same harsh judgment, and allege possible war crimes by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, where, over many years, large numbers of civilians have been killed and maimed in bombing operations aimed at the Taliban? Apparently not. These are invariably chalked up to "mistakes." The charge of "disproportionate" force, let alone "war crimes" is evidently not part of HRW's lexicon in these cases.

Such slanderous rush-to-judgement seems reserved for the IDF, which must struggle to counter thousands of missiles that are stored and launched into Israel from among Palestinian civilian centres.

Dershowitz appropriately reminded us of Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who said in testimony that the Goldstone commission rejected: "I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.”

The time has come to examine how respected organizations like HRW are holding Israel not only to a double standard, but to a uniquely unjust set of standards.

* * *

On a positive note, in "To save a single life, they're willing to travel into the heart of chaos" (Toronto Star, April 5), Catherine Porter spoke with Dr. Ofer Merin – head of the IDF's 50-member field hospital located in the tsunami-damaged region of Japan. Referring also to Israel's field hospital in earthquake-damaged Haiti, Porter placed Israel's medical relief efforts in the broader context of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam – the commitment "to repair the world." Porter’s moving story reminds us that, when it comes to the coverage of Israel, not all news is bad news.